tv Tavis Smiley PBS October 12, 2009 12:00pm-12:30pm EDT
nick hornby. many of his best-selling books have been turned into movies, including "high fidelity" and "about a boy." his latest is called "juliet, naked." also tonight, karen armstrong is here. it the best-selling author is now leading a critically acclaimed project called "the case for god." that is coming up right now. >> there are so many things that wal-mart is looking forward to doing, like helping people live better. but mostly, we're helping build stronger communities and relationships. with your help, the best is yet to come. >> nationwide insurance proudly supports "tavis smiley." tavis and nationwide, working together to improve financial literacy and the economic empowerment that comes with it. >> ♪ nationwide is on your side ♪ >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like
you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] tavis: nick hornby is a perennial york times best selling writer and screenwriter whose many projects have been turned into movies. his latest is called "juliet, naked." his latest film that opens this weekend is called "and education." here's a sneak preview. >> you have no idea how boring everything was before i met you.
actions are character, our english teacher says. i never did anything before i met you. sometimes i think nobody has ever done anything in this whole stupid country apart from you. tavis: books, movies. you keep this up, you might make something of yourself one day. >> i cannot see that. my mom's still does not think so. tavis: i will let you explain the story line. >> it is a short piece of autobiographical memoir, and it is about an affair that she had when she was 16, 17 years old, the beginning of the 1960's with an unsuitable older man. tavis: why that project?
obviously, it lot of your books have been turned into movies. why did you want to adapt at peace? >> there were a couple of things. i thought the tone was interesting. in fiction, i am always looking for stuff that is funny and sad, and most projects get into a groove and stay there. this piece was painful and very funny. i loved the way that it switched in that way. it was about a time that i did not know much about, the 1960's in london. it is not the swinging 60's, it has not happened yet. it is a country right on the cusp of enormous change, and i found a compelling. tavis: i am compelled to ask, what is it about this duality of funny and sad that has to be there to get your attention? >> first of all, i think that is what life is. i did not see why we should
have novels that cannot contain a single item like that. some of my favorite writers are people who do that. when you get to the end of a book like that or movie, you feel like you have been somewhere emotionally, if the place. tavis: now to the new book, "juliet, naked," explain the title. >> disappointingly, it is about a record album. i guess we're past the stage where making a book title may persuade people to purchase. that is about a singer- songwriter whose great work, great break out album is called "juliet." 20 years later, the record company releases the demo version, hence "juliet, naked." it is about what happens when this record comes out in the
world with profound effects on the artist and fans. tavis: to tell this particular story, did this story have to be wrapped around music, a musical artist? why that venue? >> i wanted to write about art, and that was partly for me why summer means something to some people but not others. i also want to write authenticity and art and whether that is important. there are a lot of things in that. i guess partly it is about writing, but i am not sure that people are as interested in riders about musicians. tavis: when you say authenticity and our, unpacked that for me? >> some people think something's come straight from the soul and are raw and that automatically means is a great work of art. things that are contrived are
not great works of art. it is not a theory and necessarily subscribe to. some commercial music, some of the great hollywood films of the 1940's, they were mainstream confection that they turned into works of art. they survived. i do not think that is necessarily true that how it is attained automatically. tavis: even though motown was commercial and written off for white all businesses -- for white audiences, for you it was authentic? >> it still is, anyway. tavis: do you believe that, that authenticity is beside the point, or is that only apply to art? >> i do not want to say that with people. i think i do believe that with art, but i do not think it is
particularly relevant in discussing the success or otherwise of a project. tavis: what for you makes a piece of literary work authentic? >> i think if it is meant and fell to -- and felt. there are lots of books that are written for other reasons than that, and i did not want to particularly read them. i did not write the book because i wanted to be paid for it. there were many other reasons. i think that you can tell that. tavis: let me follow you there. when you get to your level of being a perennial new york times best selling writer, most of your books become movies, if you are not writing for money at your level, why are you writing? >> exactly the same reason when i started. the felt like something inside that had to come out and it had
to be scratched. if i did not write for a few months, i start to feel uncomfortable. there is a need for me to do it. that need has not been satiated. tavis: what is the writing process like, now that you are not writing because you are out talking to people like me, regrettably for you -- >> it is better than work. tavis: but you are doing the book tour, but when you are in writing mode, what is the process? >> i have an office at my home. i have a one-bedroom apartment. i keep office hours. i drop my kid off at school and i buy myself coffee and then i go to my office. the idea is that i do a day's work and go home. the reality is that a check for
emails, move around on the internet, i write three sentences, time for another cup of coffee. tavis: i noticed that you said your office is a 10-minute walked outside of your home down the street. could you right from your home? i'm trying to figure out the distance. >> i think it is some type of professionalism, for a start. it means that i have to get dressed in the morning, a job where i have to wear clothing. the minimum requirement. so there is that. i have kids, and they're not very conducive to riding at home. i just leave all the stuff there. work is worked, and i do not have to have loads of papers and pieces floating around. the truth about a writer's life, you have to start working anyway because it is in your head and you take that home with you. tavis: do you ever get writer's
block? if so, how you move beyond that? >> i think that writer's block is a colossal loss of confidence. you believe that you cannot write for it that you cannot think of what you want to say. i think what it means is that he's there at what you have written on the page and you cannot understand why this would be of interest to anyone other than yourself. i cannot believe that any writer with his cell -- worth his salt does not affected by it at some point. i think another thing is to keep the outside world at bay, not to read -- i do not read reviews, i do not google myself. that richard kiplinger think about keeping imposters the same, that makes sense to me. it is keeping your confidence steady and plugging away.
tavis: said she believes that no writer worth his or her salt does not have writer's block at some point, i assume that means you have been there before. when you get there, how did you navigate beyond that? >> it is not very easy. usually, some kind of computer game is involved. tavis: first i heard that answer before. >> getting miserable playing solitaire. potentially, there comes a point or self loathing takes over at and i get away from the computer. tavis: since you know that nowadays most things that you write, you tell me, maybe before you start writing, but these days since she knew that most things that you write somebody will want the option to turn it into a movie, how does that impact your process? you said earlier that you write because of an itch that have to scratch. i suspect we know people are waiting to pay you a bunch of money to turn it into a movie,
does it ever impact your process? >> think i have been very lucky in the first couple of books that i wrote, one was a memoir about myself. the other one was "high fidelity." they seem to me not to be movies anyway whatsoever. "high fidelity" was set -- was set in somebody's head. i think it was difficult to adapt. there was a lot of junk husak talking into the camera. it made sense to them -- there was a lot of john cusak talking into the camera. in other words, i am writing exactly what i want to write, and somehow, someone for some reason wants the option anyway. no, that is the short answer. it does not affect me at all. i do not think people realize, if your book as recognizable characters and a narrative and also the book has some kind of
profile, it will get options, if not by a studio than by a 21- year-old english producer who has set up office next door at some point in the process. there is no point in thinking about it because you know what happened. how long tavis: before we see "juliet, naked" on the screen? >> there is a lot of stuff happening right now. i have a couple of books lost in the process somewhere, four or five years i would imagine is about average. tavis: the new book by nick hornby is called "juliet, naked." nick, nice to have you on the program. >> it was really good to see you. tavis: up next on the program, karen armstrong. stay with us. karen armstrong is an acclaimed religion writer whose many notable books include the best
seller "a history of god." her latest is called "the case for god." why do we feel at this point in history that there needs to be a case made for god? what is happening with this onslaught of books by and in defense of atheism? what we need to make a case for god? >> there has been difficulty in religion in the moment. during the 17th century, we changed our conception of god quite dramatically in the western world. we started thinking about god is something that we could prove as a being. we stopped thinking of got as a symbol that pointed to something beyond itself, what theologians call the god beyond god, and turned that symbol into hard fact. then of course science comes along and seems to disprove the reality of this being.
people i think are confused. despite our scientific and technological brilliance, we often think about god and remarkably developed, even primitive way. tavis: he is under attack? >> god is under attack. i am not happy with the kind of viciousness about a lot of our debate about religion, because one of the things i have found after 25 years of studying is to quarrel about religion is counterproductive. it in bed you in a type of egotism, and all spiritual writers tell us that it is ego that keeps us back from an apprehension of the divine. tavis: there's been a lot of discussion in this country about civility in our society. how then do we find ourselves in a space of civility about the got a question, about religion? >> i think we have to go back to
basics. all the world religions insist that there is one important ingredient that is the test of any true religion, and it is compassion, the ability to put yourself in the place of somebody else and treat them with absolute respect. that is true whether you are confucian, hindu, buddhist, thomas, or anything. to denigrate or speak despair selling -- disparagingly of other people's ideas is a denial of something that is to be about, and nobody has the last word on god because god goes beyond anything that we could say or no. -- could say or know. tavis: without denigrating others, what -- where does karen armstrong began in building the case?
>> basically, that religious knowledge is learned by practice. religion is a practical thing, like swimming or driving, dancing, gymnastics. you cannot learn these things by reading a book. you have to get into the water and learn how to float. a dancer will have to practice years and years. when she is finished, she will be able to do things that the human body would think would initially be quite impossible. religious people have done this with their hearts and minds, and most of our religious subjects are not metaphysical facts that we have to believe, they are programs for action. they are telling us how to behave. that goes for something like the incarnation or the eternity, -- or the trinity, as well as it does with other religions. these are religions of practice.
christianity, too. during the enlightenment, when we became so rational, we turned religious knowledge into something notional, which we had to accept and believe, instead of something that we practiced. it is hard work, religion. it is not just a question of singing a couple of hands or reciting a creed -- it is not a question of seeing a couple of hymns or reciting a creed. yoga for example was not an exercise to help you lose weight. it was originally a systematic breakdown of egotism and selfishness that frees you from the prism of pretty selfish -- selfishness that holds us back from the divine. tavis: let me ask the politically incorrect question,
not the last time i will do so, but how much of the fact that we now have to make a case for god has to do with man's arrogance, living longer, and being able to do stuff that we never thought we could do? born from arrogance, combined with cynicism. every -- that is not to say that every agnostic that i know is cynical and arrogant, though i know some that are, but how much has to do with cynicism in society and the arrogance of humankind? >> i think arrogance is related to ego, of course. yes, we think that we have sauced out all the problems of the universe -- that we have sussed out all the problems of the universe. scientists are also discovering how little that we know about the universe, that the certainty is that we thought sir isaac had are gone and the universe is
much more mysterious. not knowing is built into the human condition. there are always things about experience, and is that, it is the recognition of that that brings us happiness. i think there is also an emptiness, matter-of-fact. i think we are meeting at seeking creatures. dogs do not spend much time agonizing about the k9 condition, the plight of dogs in the afterlife, but we do. if we did not find it, we fallen to despair. religion is not here to answer questions about the universe, which we can to an extent find out by our own reasoning, but to help us deal with those aspects of life which we cannot control -- old age, sickness, death, and happiness, the suffering of children, the plight of people,
our fellow human beings. cruelty to one another. it is these terrible questions that religion helps us deal with and to live peacefully and creatively and compassionately in the midst of the suffering that is inherent in life. tavis: to the nonbeliever watching or listening right now, how does a belief in god help one find meaning, and does one have to acknowledge god to have a life of meaning? >> what we call god is pointing to something that goes beyond anything that we can know. we're not talking about any certain knowledge, but the practice. that is not just believing, which we have made a fetish of and the west the last couple hundred years, but it is the practice of compassion that selflessness, day-by-day, all
day, every day that gives you an enhanced being. i used to be an extremely spiteful human being, very unhappy, very defensive. since i have been studying religion and trying to undo myself of my cleverness and understand people who lived and wrote hundreds of years ago, i found it has changed my attitude to people in daily life. you feel richer. i mentioned the dancer earlier. the dancer who learns to do wonderful physical feats, which feeds on earthly grace, some human beings have by getting rid of all that petty selfish things that hold us back achieve enhanced humanity and a sense of peace. it transcended say. -- transcendency. but it does not come easily.
tavis: it seems to me with all the debate about whether there is a god and having to make a case for him, those of us who believe, it is a practice. the living, what you talked about, that is the difficult part. how much of the diminishment of our belief then god is in the fact that we do not really want to practice this stuff. >> if you are not going to practice it, it means nothing. it is like the rules of a board game. you know that when you pick up the instructions and start reading these things, and terminally dull and boring, then you pick up the dice and you start to play and everything falls into place. these doctrines or beliefs make no sense unless they are translated into ethical, ritual action. i have tried to show in the
book how these believes were originally structured to lead to action, and then you get it, then you start to understand what the doctor is trying to tell us. if you put it into practice, you find that it tells you something profoundly true, even if that truth is not factual or demonstrable scientifically. tavis: i am always delighted to speak with karen armstrong, and she has a new book out right now called "the case for god." karen, nice to have you on the program. >> a has been wonderful. -- and has been wonderful. tavis: access our radio podcast on pbs.org. i will see you next time. until then, the night from l.a., and as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley on pbs.org.
tavis: hi, i am tavis smiley. join me next time for our conversation with michael sheen on his new film. that is next time. we will see you then. >> there are so many things that wal-mart is looking forward to doing, like helping people live better. but mostly, we're helping build stronger communities and relationships. because with your help, the best is yet to come. >> nationwide insurance proudly supports "tavis smiley." tavis and nationwide, working together to improve financial literacy and the economic empowerment that comes with it. >> ♪ nationwide is on your side ♪ >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] captioned by the national captioning institute --www.ncicap.org--